Your Career and You: ‘It’s Okay to Fail’


Publication1I’ve just finished re-reading Charlene Li’s excellent “Open Leadership,” a fascinating look at how social technology can be used to create a success-focused business environment. This isn’t a book review, though, so you’ll have to get and read the book yourself.

One chapter toward the end really caught my attention…“The Failure Imperative”…with the basic message of “It’s okay to fail”…as long as you have learned something from the experience.

I realize that “failure” has a gazillion different meanings depending on where you are in life.

On the student side, it’s the “F” you got on an exam or assignment. Not being the brightest bulb in my family’s tulip bed, I’m more than familiar with this…took three tries to finally squeak through the statistics course required for my business management bachelor’s degree.

On the professional career level, it’s the great idea you have and champion that, when actually put into action, bombs spectacularly. In my 30-ish years as a public relations practitioner, I racked up a bunch of these puppies including a “singles-night, line-dance blood drive” that never should have seen the light of day!

My takeaway from “The Failure Imperative” is that a willingness to take chances and do things a new way is the mark of someone who truly believes in him- or herself and is willing to jump into the deep end and learn by doing.

I’m not talking about “being stupid” here. That was, in my toddler years (seems like only yesterday!), sticking a metal nail file into an electrical outlet to see what would happen…don’t do that anymore!

What I’m suggesting is that just because it’s never been done that way before is not a reason not to try.

This holds true in college life just as it does in a professional career. There are those…look around you; you see ‘em…who just won’t venture off the tried-and-proven path. And many of them will go on to become “good employees” and, eventually, “good managers.”

But they won’t become great leaders unless something dramatic changes in their outlook and action.

You can do this. Take a long, hard look to yourself…your interests, your strengths…your weaknesses. What is it that, when you think about or do it, gives you a little thrill of excitement?

Once you’ve taken this step, as Nike would say, “Just do it.”

As you progress, you’ll have opportunities to try new ways of doing what you love doing. You’ll think of quicker, easier, more efficient approaches. Try them!

Sometimes everything will fall right into place, and you will have improved the process in some fashion.

Sometimes things will go wrong in ways you couldn’t imagine in your scariest nightmare.

That’s okay, too. When the dust clears, ask yourself, “What did I learn here?” Then apply that new knowledge to the challenge and try again…or not, depending on the results (see wall socket/nail file above).

But at least you will have tried. You may have failed on the first go-round, but you learned.

As Winston Churchill once said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

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About kirkhazlett

35+ years' federal government and nonprofit organization PR experience followed by more than 10 years' undergraduate and graduate college teaching experience. Community and media relations expertise, as well as a fanaticism for quality service and customer satisfaction. PR for healthcare and member services organizations ranging from Blood Bank of Hawaii to Medical Area Service Corporation to Boston Harborfest. Consulting services for Manila and Singapore Red Cross.
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6 Responses to Your Career and You: ‘It’s Okay to Fail’

  1. Pingback: Simon Oh | #Read3 + The Week Ahead: Sept. 1, 2013

  2. Hi, I like your thoughts, but must add that when you try and fail while on a salary job, it doesn’t cost you financially….well unless you somehow end up fired or laid off because of it….although many organizations are starting to encourage more risk taking. On the counter side, as an entrepreneur for the last 15 years whom is supporting a family, I and my other fellow entrepreneurs MUST adapt quickly to trying new tactics, failing and learning MUCH quicker….why? Well, simply because entrepreneurs or the “self-employed” have to “find food daily”….no paycheck every 2 weeks via direct deposit from an employer…rather the entrepreneur or “self-employed” must constantly hunt down the money or customers so to speak…that translates into failing fast and learning fast or there is literally no food on the table for both yourself and your kids. Sounds harsh and albeit risky to many….but I wanted to present the reality as I’m not sure FT salaried people or academics with a tenured position can fully understand the motivation behind “failing and learning” when one’s way of life depends on adapting to such behavior. Thanks for getting the conversation going.
    Dr. Mary Jean Koontz
    CEO/Founder
    http://www.stemkids.jobs
    San Francisco, CA

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    • kirkhazlett says:

      Thanks for your very thoughtful comment, Mary Jean. You’re absolutely correct that it makes a bit of a difference where you are in the “food chain.” As a non-tenured academic who, among his many other accomplishments, managed to get fired from a professional PR position…been there, done that! But, in the course of 35 years in professional life followed now by more than 10 years in academia, I have learned a ton from both the good AND the bad. Nowawdays, I devote a lot of my time to helping my students…future PR (and other fields) practitioners…understand that it’s okay to not hit a homerun everyone they’re at bat. Even Babe Ruth didn’t do that!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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      • HI Rex, I’m a long term adjunct and yet to be funded entrepreneur, so both require finding food on a regular basis….thanks for the immediate feedback…I just read people telling people to take risks and often wonder, easiest for a 22-year old just graduated and still living at parents, eating their food, etc…..as someone whom never did that, it’s hard for me to imagine, but also easy to imagine why it’s easier to take financial risks when one doesn’t worry about a roof over one’s head, feeding and paying for a kid….different phases of life so to speak….calculated risks are often what people take once they are a bit older and have more financial responsibilities:)

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